• Neurobiology - a key to unlocking Trauma in therapy

    It is a sad reality that trauma and trauma-related issues seem to be on the rise in Australia.

    Our media is awash with stories of enquiries in to child sex abuse; family violence and neglect; of asylum seekers in detention as young as six diagnosed with PTSD. Traumatic disorders are no longer the sole realm of returning veterans - though Australia is home to many of those suffering soldiers as well.

    As we know, traumatic events are powerful and disturbing incidents that intrude into daily life. Usually they are defined as experiences which are life threatening, or where there is a significant threat to one's physical or psychological wellbeing.

    Mental health, psychology and counselling professionals are those with the huge responsibility of helping people process and come to terms with their trauma. It takes skill, compassion, insight and empathy to traverse this ledge. It requires current, best-practice methodologies, and an understanding of emerging science in order to be able to give those experiencing traumatic disorders, the best possible chance to move forward.

    Dr Jan Ewing knows this better than some. As well as having a list of credentials as long as her arm, she is an acclaimed speaker on the lecture circuit. Most of her time however, is taken up by a busy private practice which includes both neuropsychological assessments and therapy, with specialist interest and training in post-traumatic syndromes (particularly combat-related trauma); adult survivors of childhood abuse; and neglect.

    Jan combines her understanding of Neuropsychology with her experience as a therpaist and has authored several exceptional training workshops in this area. ZHUCHI has been (very) lucky to secure her to deliver a two day workshop in October - Psychological Trauma, Brain & Behaviour: The Neurobiology of Trauma throughout the Lifespan.

    We wanted to grill Jan on her training and its value to clinicians...

    Z: Jan, why is a workshop like this imperative for those working in mental health and the caring professions?

    JE: Over the past decade there has been increasing recognition of the importance of understanding brain-behaviour relationships in the treatment of many psychiatric disorders, especially those related to trauma. While the initial research focussed on adult-onset PTSD (such as Vietnam Veterans), more and more research has been emerging about the impact of early trauma on brain development and how this then compromises later resilience. Having a firm grasp of the neurobiology of early trauma not only helps the clinician make sense of symptoms and behaviour that can otherwise be confusing or confronting in complex clients but it also helps the clients themselves make sense of their reactions.

    Z: Why is it important that a therapist understands their own reactions to a client's experience?

    JE: In essence it is the necessary foundation for a collaborative approach to treatment that reduces shame and enhances treatment outcomes. When symptoms make sense, treatment strategies become self-evident, more acceptable to the client and more likely to be effective.

    Z: Who comes along to these workshops - is it just relevant to other neuropsychologists?

    JE: NO, not at all!! In fact the goal of the training is the complete opposite. This workshop makes what can seem intimidating and complicated neuroscience accessible and easy to understand, clinically meaningful and ready to translate into the treatment setting.

    Z: So people will leave with their sleeves rolled up and ready to go to work?

    JE: Exactly!

    Z: Are you still learning in your own practice with clients?

    JE: Of course! The clinician who has stopped learning will soon lose passion for their work and will become too inflexible in their approach.

    Z: What about in the area of Trauma itself?

    JE: Definitely - there is so much to learn! And that is especially the case in the neuroscience of psychological disorders which, while being as old as the profession itself, is one of the most exciting areas of growth as technology allows us greater and greater insight into the 'black box'!!

    Z: What do you do with your "aha" moments?

    JE: The 'aha' moments refresh and re-invigorate us in what is a demanding and emotionally draining profession. When I have an 'aha' moment I can't wait to get back to that client where we have been 'stuck' or circling in the treatment process and bring new energy and excitement to our journey together.

    To find out full details of Jan's workshop on 9 & 10 October 2014, click here.

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